From our correspondent
Arman and Shalu’s love story began ten years ago on the streets of Delhi after leaving school. But, in a conservative India, interfaith couples face an obstacle course to have their union accepted. Even more so when the young man is a Muslim, like Arman, and the young Hindu woman, like Shalu. Determined, the couple married in February and found refuge at the Dhanak Center, which supports couples in distress. Because Arman’s in-laws filed a complaint for kidnapping. And stirs the specter of “love jihad”, a theory fomented by Hindu groups who accuse Muslim men of marrying young Hindus to force them to convert. “Muslims would never want to trap Hindu women in this way! “, protests the young man. Yet the imaginary fear of the “jihad of love” is spreading in India. Several states led by the Hindu nationalist party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi are preparing to adopt laws against “love jihad”.
Uttar Pradesh just took the plunge with the introduction of a law “Against conversions”, targeting marriages concluded “With the sole intention of changing the girl’s religion”, in the words of a minister. This state governed by a fundamentalist monk, Yogi Adityanath, thus intends “Protect the honor of our sisters and our daughters”. On Wednesday, a Muslim man was arrested in Uttar Pradesh for the first time on charges of breaking the new law. He faces a sentence of up to ten years in prison. In reality, “love jihad” does not exist. The term feeds on the paranoid fantasy of a conspiracy by the Muslim minority against Hindus. Over the past decade, controversy has sparked legal battles struggling to prove the theory’s reality. The authorities themselves admit not having recorded ” In no case “ recognized. Complaints of forced marriage or kidnapping are often made by parents who disapprove of their Hindu daughter’s union with a Muslim. Lately, in Uttar Pradesh, fourteen inquiries into marriages “Suspects” swept aside the conspiracy theory.
“The idea of Hindu women victims of” love jihad “is completely false”, says Asif Iqbal, who runs the Dhanak Center. Conversely, he sees mixed couples arriving frightened by such accusations. He is concerned about the adoption of the new laws: “They will be an additional tool of harassment and a means of increased pressure from parents, with the support of the police and the administration. “ This hunt for “love jihad” is nonetheless contradicted by a Supreme Court ruling dating from 2018, which reaffirms individual freedom in marriage and imposes the obligation to protect interfaith couples.
In the immediate future, the crusade of the Hindu nationalists raises a wave of indignation. “Outlawing something that does not exist is a first”, joked the daily The Times of India. “Could someone explain to Hindus that we must legislate against hatred, and not against love?” “, launched, on Twitter, the politician Shashi Tharoor. The underlying misogyny also triggers a reaction. “Hindu women are supposed to have brains and free will to freely choose their partner”, recalled lawyer Karuna Nundy. And the controversy rekindles the prevailing Islamophobia under the era of Narendra Modi. Last month, an advertisement for a jewelry brand featuring a young Hindu with her Muslim mother-in-law had ignited the powder. It had been withdrawn under pressure from Hindu groups. “For the first time in my life, I sometimes avoid saying my Muslim first name in public”, saddened Asima, a 28-year-old teacher, whose boyfriend is Hindu. “Being a Muslim in India doesn’t never been so difficult. “